Having beaten Ajax at home, but losing at Heracles away recently, Groningen have been a team with two distinct faces so far this season. Against last season’s runners-up Twente, they displayed both of them, conceding the first half advantage, but making up for it in fighting spirit come the second half. Coming off an excellent 4-1 Europa League away win at Odense, Twente looked like hoping to see the game out easily, but got caught out in the end.
Though playing in the same formation as they did in the past season, Pieter Huistra’s team falls way short of their record breaking season start of that 2010/11 season. They miss captain Granqvist, whose distribution tasks from the back have not been taken over yet, and striker Tim Matavz, whose excellent goal scoring record brought invaluable points during the past campaign.
Other than that, Huistra has decided to degrade goal keeper Luciano to the bench, in favor of veteran goal keeper Brian van Loo. Luciano caught some attention with a few misses come the end of the season, but his shot stopping qualities came out excellently in last year’s defensive performances analysis. Groningen conceded only 0.105 goals per shot allowed, or in other words their opponents needed on average 9.5 shots to score against them. This number was second only to Ajax’ Maarten Stekelenburg, whose qualities were reflected in 11.1 shots needed to score against him.
In spite of that, or unaware of that, Huistra decided to remove Luciano in favor of Van Loo. This match makes for interesting observations in that regards, as Van Loo was clearly at fault for the Twente goal, but made a series of excellent second half saves. Come the winter break we might need to look at the data again…
Twente manager Co Adriaanse generally has his team playing an offensive, high pressing formation. Most times this is best described as a 4-3-3 set-up, although at times Adriaanse likes to tune it to a 4-2-4 set-up with second striker Luuk de Jong pushing high up against target man Mark Janko. In the match against Groningen Twente adopted a slightly more defensive approach, perhaps taking a bit of a breather during the spell of the game where they defended their 1-0 lead. With De Jong playing behind Janko and Landzaat focusing on his defensive duties during most of the game, a 4-2-3-1 seemed the best fit to describe them today.
The three formations that Twente uses (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-4) are in fact different shades of grey. In tactical terms, the positioning of Luuk de Jong and of the second central midfielder, Denny Landzaat in this match, is a tell tale of Twente’s ambitions in the match at hand. With De Jong closing in on Janko, joining him in the central area, Twente aims for the 4-2-4-esque formation, but with De Jong equally capable of playing a genuine offensive midfield role, and Landzaat more withdrawn, a true 4-2-3-1 comes out.
The first half
Both teams set out for an enthusiastic start to the game, with Groningen creating a hopeful series of chances during the first fifteen minutes. But as is often the case, the match settled down a bit when the home side took their foot off the gas, as their frantic start could never be kept up. The game that arose showed Twente playing a smart game, exerting pressure on all but one of Groningen’s defenders and midfielders.
Young centre-back Virgil van Dijk, an impressive physical presence, and often praised for his qualities in that regard, was deliberately left free during Groningen’s early possession. His limitations were painfully shown as he squandered a lot of short to medium range passes, opening his teams up for some dangerous quick Twente counters. One of them saw left winger Ola John fire in from the edge of the area. As mentioned above, Van Loo didn’t show his best in failing to deal with the short corner attempt and Twente got their desired opening goal.
The second half
Twente seemed intent to sit on their lead, rather than aiming to extend it further. Adriaanse made two half time substitution, with Bengtsson for Wisgerhof clearly fueled by an slight injury to the Twente captain. Willem Janssen replaced Bajrami as right winger, but this substitution had quite some impact.
Janssen is more of a central midfielder by nature and plays an inside right role at best. This freed Groningen’s best player of the game, left-back Lorenzo Burnet to venture forward and express the best parts of his game. Groningen was often praised for having the best left side of the past season’s Eredivisie, and Burnet may just be looking to fill Frederik Stenman’s boots in that regard. His wing-back qualities connected very well with Dusan Tadic’ one-on-one skills and crossing.
Groningen also threw in a more offensive stance for midfielders Kieftenbeld and, particularly, Sparv, which opened up space. Sparv’s passing qualities helped their ball circulation, although the downside of this increase in space was also displayed in the fact that Twente’s counters were hardly stopped before Van Loo’s goal was taken under fire. A series of excellent saves saw the Groningen goal keeper make up for his first half error.
Groningen’s offensive intentions were rewarded when substitute striker Hyun-Jun Suk, having replaced Bacuna at the right wing position, tapped in a rebound. The 1-1 score line, at that moment in the match, seemed a good reflection of the equality in terms of goal scoring chances created.
In the end
Groningen’s hard work and more offensive second half intentions in the end proved enough to match Twente’s de facto superior playing skills. A few glimpses of quality were shown in a substitute appearance by Nacer Chadli, Twente’s star player after the departure of Bryan Ruiz. All in all, Twente looked a tad distracted during this game. Given their busy schedule this may be intentional, but it cost them in the second half.